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Frontiersman Gabriel Arthur is believed to have been the first person of European descent to see the Kanawha Valley, having visited the area with a band of Tomahitan Indians in 1674. Little is known of Arthur personally, other than he was a young man, possibly 19, when his great adventure began, and probably of English birth. Guided by Indians, he traveled with James Needham in an expedition sent out by Abraham Wood from Fort Henry (present Petersburg, Virginia) to explore western lands.

Needham was killed by an Occaneechi Indian guide, while Arthur accompanied the Tomahitans to their town in northwest Georgia. When the Indians learned of Needham’s death, they decided to burn Arthur, but the Tomahitans interceded. Arthur was sent on four war parties. He went to Port Royal in South Carolina, a Spanish mission in Florida, and possibly as far as Mobile Bay in Alabama. On his third journey, he traveled 10 days north to the Moneton village at present Marmet, about 10 miles southeast of Charleston, on the Kanawha River. The Indians with whom Arthur traveled were welcomed by the Moneton Indians, who spoke an Ohio Valley Siouan language. After a few days, the Tomahitans traveled west to attack their enemies on the Ohio River. The attack was unsuccessful. Arthur received two arrow wounds and was taken prisoner. After it was determined that Arthur was not an enemy, he was put on an Indian trail that took him back to the Tomahitan village.

Arthur’s journey, which began in May 1673, ended with his return to Fort Henry in June 1674. Arthur’s mission followed soon after the Batts and Fallam expedition, another team sent out by Woods, that set out from Fort Henry in 1671 and became the first recorded European-Americans to explore the upper reaches of the New River.

This Article was written by Robert F. Maslowski

Last Revised on November 20, 2023

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Briceland, Alan Vance. Westward from Virginia: The Exploration of the Virginia-Carolina Frontier, 1650-1710. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1987.

Maslowski, Robert F.. "Cultural Affiliation Statement: New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area." Boston, Northeast Region NAGPRA Program, National Park Service, 2011.

Davis, R. P. Stephen, Jr., ed.. The Travels of James Needham and Gabriel Arthur through Virginia, North Carolina, and Beyond, 1673-1674. Southern Indian Studies, 39, 1990.

Spencer, Darla S.. Evidence of Siouan Occupation. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of Virginia, 64, 3, 2009.

Cite This Article

Maslowski, Robert F. "Gabriel Arthur." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 November 2023. Web. 12 July 2024.


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